Puritan Family Life: The Diary of Samuel Sewall

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9781555535933: Puritan Family Life: The Diary of Samuel Sewall

Historians have commonly characterized Puritan family life as joyless, repressive, even brutal. By such accounts, Puritan parents disciplined their children mercilessly, crushed their wills, responded callously to their deaths, and routinely sent them out of the home to be raised by cold-hearted surrogates. The diary of Samuel Sewall (1652-1730) contradicts this grim portrait of the Puritan household.

Although Sewall was an exceptional Puritan father and not a representative one, his judicial, civic, religious, and business activities projected him far beyond his own privileged and respectable circumstances. As a record of the family and social life of New England's third generation, his remarkable journal, which spans fifty-five years, is rivaled only by that of his friend Cotton Mather. Sewall provides rich details about the home where his and Hannah Sewall's fourteen children were born, and the six who survived infancy were raised. He takes the reader through the streets and byways of Boston, to the meetinghouse, to the places where his children were educated and apprenticed, and to the homes of friends, neighbors, and kin.

Judith S. Graham's close reading of Sewall's diary and family papers reveals that warmth, sympathy, and love often marked the Puritan parent-child relationship. She suggests that the special nature of childhood was a concept that parents understood well, and that there was a practical and clear purpose for the "putting out" of children. Graham provides a much-needed balance to accepted scholarship on Puritan life and offers new insights into the history of both early New England and the family.

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About the Author:

Judith S. Graham is a graduate of Brandeis University and received her Ph.D. in History from Boston College. She lives in the Boston area.

From Publishers Weekly:

Graham joins the ranks of those exceptionally articulate colonial historians--among them John Demos and Edmund S. Morgan--who are interested in the history of the American family. Basing her study of Puritan family life primarily on the diary of jurist and merchant Samuel Sewall (1652-1730), Graham seeks to topple common misconceptions about Puritan culture. The Sewalls, she contends, were not the joyless, repressive and brutal parents that Puritans are often thought to have been--they were engaged and affectionate. The author's arguments are not always persuasive, however. For example, she tries to make the case that Samuel's union with his wife, Hannah (the daughter of a wealthy silversmith), was not a marriage of mere convenience but a loving, companionate marriage filled with mutual respect. Although not implausible, Graham's claim isn't borne out by the evidence--the diary is all but silent on the subject of the Sewalls'marital relationship. On the other hand, Graham is at her best when discussing the Sewalls' relationships with their children (they had 14, eight of whom died quite young); although Philippe Ari?s popularized the view that, until the 18th century, parents treated children as "miniature adults" and childhood wasn't recognized as a distinct developmental stage, the Sewalls, Graham suggests, didn't conform to these stereotypes. Samuel and Hannah took in a niece and nephew and several boys preparing to enter Harvard: these children, according to Graham, were treated as cherished members of the Sewall household. Graham also claims that Sewall remained intimately involved in the lives of his children and grandchildren long after they grew up. Illustrations.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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